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Forest Service Biologist Questions Agency’s Commitment

August 29, 1989

EUGENE, Ore (AP) _ A U.S. Forest Service biologist Monday questioned his agency’s commitment to the northern spotted owl, saying logging has been allowed near two of the bird’s 11 nests in the Siuslaw National Forest.

Norm Barrett testified at the last in a series of four U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hearings on whether to list the spotted owl as a threatened species, a move being vehemently resisted by the timber industry.

In proposing the owl for threatened species status last June, the Fish & Wildlife Service wrote in the Federal Register that logging in old growth forests in the Northwest was destroying the bird’s habitat.

Barrett said that officials in the Siuslaw National Forest in western Oregon recently allowed logging within 100 yards of two of the 11 breeding pairs known to exist on the forest.

″It worries me that on a forest with only 11 breeding pairs of owls, they can endanger two of their pairs,″ Barrett said.

Barrett’s comments came before an estimated 500 people, many of them wearing yellow T-shirts or yellow buttons to show their solidarity with the timber industry.

At one point, reacting to the widespread animosity of loggers to spotted owls, Earth First activist Karen Wood stood at the speaker’s microphone wearing an owl costume and asked those present, ″Please, don’t shoot me.″

″We must not let the timber industry set our agenda,″ she said. ″We must stop the deforestation or our last ancient rain forests.″

Willamette National Forest supervisor Mike Kerrick said 70 percent of the remaining spotted owl habitat in the Northwest is in national forests and the U.S. Forest Service had a mandate to provide for the ″long-term viability of the spotted owl.″

Kerrick said in the Willamette, 48 percent of the land was off-limits to logging and there was sufficient habitat to support 257 pairs, though only 140 pairs were verified this year.

Most of the testimony came from timber industry workers and supporters, who called on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to remember thousands of jobs are at stake when they decide whether to list the spotted owl as a threatened species.

″Your agency has never before had to consider the listing of a species which, if listed, would have as catastrophic (an) affect on people’s lives as this one,″ said Ross Mickey, staff forester for the North West Timber Association in Eugene. ″It is your duty to the thousands of families whose lives will be thrown into chaos to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the spotted owl is threatened and warrants protection.″

The timber industry maintains that if the owl is listed as threatened, thousands of jobs will be lost to preserve old-growth forests as its habitat. Such forests are where the biggest and most valuable timber is found.

The Fish & Wildlife Service has estimated only 1,500 nesting pairs of Northern spotted owls remain in its range from southern British Columbia to Northern California.

After a Sept. 21 deadline for public comment, the agency has a year to make a decision on whether to declare the bird a threatened species.